I could see the bull long before I got to him; he wasn’t a monster, but he was legal and respectable nonetheless. It was also the last day of our seven-day hunt and probably the last chance I would have at taking bull during the season. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, but getting to a spot where I could get a shot would be the tricky part.
Alaska moose are very big animals and if you haven’t been up close to one then you have no idea what I’m talking about. Big bulls can weigh close to 1,800 pounds and stand seven feet at the shoulder. With all that height also comes the shear mass; big bodied and a skeletal structure that is built like a tank.
I’ll be the first to say that moose hunting isn’t the most difficult hunt in the world. Here in Alaska it sometimes seems like they’re standing on every corner or behind every willow, and if you think I’m kidding just go to downtown Anchorage sometime. Even here in rural Alaska they aren’t that hard to find, but finding the right one, the glorified 60-inch-plus bull may prove a little more difficult.
1) Where to Go:
Moose can be found in almost all of Alaska, from the Colville River on the Arctic Slope to the Unuk River in Southeast. There are some parts of the state, however, such as Kodiak and many of the smaller islands, where moose do not exist, but as far as the rest of Alaska they are here and in decent numbers. If you are thinking about a moose hunt then you probably need to start looking at one or more of the many river drainages that Alaska is known for. Water attracts moose, but food supply and female companionship is the key to finding big bulls. Anyplace that that has a high concentration of willow and birch plus riverweeds and a she moose or two will be a prime location and will increase your odds greatly. Rivers such as the Noatak and Kobuk here in the Northwest to the Kuskokwim and Yukon Delta to the Kenai Peninsula all are great places to find the bull of your dreams. I have hunted them all and it would be hard for me to pick one particular area, as all are great choices.
Personally I have found that if you get off the river and hunt the low-lying willows and the occasional “open” spots you will have the best chance arrowing a good bull, plus it can provide about as much excitement as a hunter can get. Watching a big bull stroll out at 10- to 15 yards is quite the experience.
2) Archery Equipment
These days archery equipment has become so advance that just about any setup will get the job done. Top-of-the-line bow companies such as BowTech and Hoyt produce bows that practically shoot themselves, but choosing a bow is only part of the equation. It still takes a ton of practice and confidence, which becomes vital when that bull of a lifetime steps out. Whichever you choose, the state does require that a bow have a minimum of 50 pounds draw weight and a broadhead with at least 7/8 cutting diameter. Choice of broadhead is probably one of the most important aspects when it comes to choosing your archery setup for moose. Alaska law does not allow mechanicals on moose and for good reason. Moose are built like tanks and their ribs are put together like steel shingles. To successfully get an arrow into a big bull let alone a pass-through can sometimes be a tough task and most mechanicals will not perform as well as a replaceable or solid head. Penetration is the key and a complete pass-through is always desired. The last thing you want to do is wound an animal because of broadhead failure, especially on a giant moose.
After you have selected your bow setup and have things dialed in its time to choose the rest of your gear. With the high cost of flying these days and the ever-increasing cost of baggage a bow hunterneeds to choose his or her gear carefully. You will of course have a bow case and I suggest you find something big and as light as possible. A big bow case can be stuffed with not only your bow, arrows, releases, broad heads, binoculars, rangefinder and a small accessory kit, but can hold a lot more clothes than you think. With airlines charging more and more for baggage these days a big bow case will not only save you money, but allow you to take extra gear that will be needed on the hunt.
After choosing your bow and accessories you will need to bring a good set of rain gear. I’ve bow hunted moose every September for the last 17 years and on each and every one of those hunts it has rained. Your rain gear should not only be waterproof, but durable, comfortable and more importantly allow you to draw your bow with no restrictions. I personally use Sitka Gear, but others work great as well.
Fleece layering is another big plus, plus several pair of socks and some type of camp shoes. You will also need a good set of waders if you plan to bow hunt moose. River crossings are sometimes endless and will require something pass your knees. Waders are not my favorite, but necessary; they don’t breath, have very little cushion and after a long day of hunting become very uncomfortable. Your feet will feel like they have been beat with a hammer and your socks will be soaked. Believe me nothing is better than putting on a dry pair of socks and a regular pair of shoes or boots at the end of the day.
Besides the bow case I have learned that dry bags work great for the rest of your gear. Dry bags are tough and come in several sizes, plus they weigh practically nothing. Necessities, such as clothes, toiletries and game bags for example will fit nicely inside and stay dry outside the tent.
4) Bow-hunting Strategies
A legal moose here in Alaska must have a minimum width of 50 inches or have four brow tines on one side. All moose look big and sometimes it can be tough to determine on smaller bulls, but when a monster, those that are in the 60- to 70-inch range steps out you will know it.
I have tried many methods on moose and have had some success with each, but it does take persistence. Using a good pair of binoculars and spotting scope, and then finding a high vantage point to glass from is probably your best bet. Once you’re in the air on route to the area where you will be hunting you will need to make some decisions. The pilot will land where he can, but it’s been my experience to make a few passes and have him drop you off in an area that at least has a high point or a least a few hills. Moose are hard to see in the dense willow at eye level, but glassing from a hill or rise in elevation will provide a great place for you to climb up and get a better view of the area and see what it really has to offer. Once your there and locate some moose, then breakout your scope to get a closer view.
Another technique is to take off from camp using spot-and-stalk. As always you will need to pay close attention to the wind, what moose lack in speed they make up in smell. Moose have huge noses that are not only good at smelling bears and wolves, but hunters too.
Bull moose are also very responsive to calling, whether it’s from a commercial call or a homemade job like a funnel. The technique is very similar to using a whitetail doe grunt and trying to draw in big buck. By mimicking a cow moose, big bulls will usually respond in someway looking for a cow in heat. I have also rattled in bulls using nothing more than a boat paddle, but have also used a set of small moose sheds. When the rut is on bulls will respond to just about any noise, hunters need to be careful as rut crazed bulls can and will become very aggressive.
5) Be Prepared
For residents and non-residents alike bow-hunting moose doesn’t require a guide here in Alaska. Guided hunts can be quite expensive; so most bow-hunters do the “do-it-yourselfer” and go out on their own. In my opinion it is the only way to go. Seven- to ten days on the tundra with bow in hand is not only the ultimate adventure, but also true a test of your bow-hunting skills. But like all hunts in Alaska it’s not for the weak of heart and can be tough, bordering on the extreme at times. Finding and taking that bull of a lifetime can and will be the highlight of the hunt, but getting 1,800 pounds of him back to camp and then back home can be a different story. In addition to that a hunter has to be ready for all that the great outdoors and a hunt like this has to offer. Whether it’s constant rain, mosquitoes, an upset bush pilot or the ever-constant threat of bears you have to be prepared and have the brains to get things done and in some cases survive. I would highly suggest you invest in a satellite phone and a good GPS. You never know what can happen and the security they provide will make the hunt that more enjoyable.
The bull was standing on the edge of a riverbank with his nose stuck in the water. Not knowing exactly how I would cut the distance I decided with each dip of his head I would weave in and out of the willows until I could get within bow range. My hope at the time was that he wouldn’t venture back into the wall of willows where there would be no chance. I love when a plan works and with each dip I made a move and the bull stayed in place. This worked and the final reading on the rangefinder said he was broadside at 43 yards. As the Bowtech reacted and the Gold Tip disappeared into the brown hide I knew the shot was good. I wondered now if he would go into the water or turn to the willows.
Paul Atkins is an accomplished outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big-game hunting throughout North America and Africa.